HC Deb 22 July 1971 vol 821 cc1670-3
Q1. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Prime Minister how many letters he has now received relating to the Government's White Paper on the European Economic Community.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

Detailed figures are not available to show how many of the letters I have received on the Common Market relate specifically to the White Paper.

Mr. Whitehead

In answering these letters, how does the Prime Minister explain the propagandist tone of the deliberate omissions from the White Paper, which is of no service whatsoever to hon. Members who are still in favour in principle of British entry into the Common Market? Is he content that the great debate about entry should take place in the Labour Party alone, while he has to make do with a soporific love-in in the Central Hall and a Whipped vote in the House? Will he not abandon his obstinate refusal to countenance a free vote by Parliament?

The Prime Minister

I think the public demand for the White Paper shows how great is the appreciation of it.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Has my right hon. Friend observed that since the publication of the White Paper, and since the arrière pensée of the Leader of the Opposition—[Laughter.]—

Mr. Heffer


Mr. St. John-Stevas

—we must pre-part for the Common Market—there has been a massive swing of public opinion in favour of entry?

The Prime Minister

Public opinion is showing a greater and greater understanding of the successful negotiations.

Q2. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Prime Minister what discussions he has had with Heads of Government of the European Economic Community about export opportunities within an enlarged Community for the advanced technological industries of the United Kingdom.

Q6. Mr. Onslow

asked the Prime Minister what official talks he has had with the President of France, the Chancellor of West Germany, and other Heads of Government in the European Economic Community, about the effect on the capability of the European aerospace industry of British entry into the Community.

The Prime Minister

In the course of meetings with Heads of Government of the Six I have discussed the opportunities enlargement of the Communities would bring to our advanced technological industries including the aerospace industry, particularly for the pooling of technological resources and markets. There is no doubt that these opportunities, if they are seized vigorously, could be very substantial.

Mr. Tebbit

Did the Prime Minister find in those discussions a hopeful expectation that within the enlarged Community, and sheltered by a tariff wall, British companies would be able to replace and compete more successfully with the giant American combines which at the moment are scooping all the business in Europe in this field?

The Prime Minister

I found the general view that it would be possible for European companies and British companies to work more closely together so as to be more effective in competing with some of the giant companies elsewhere.

Mr. Onslow

Did the Prime Minister also form the conclusion that, if Britain does not enter Europe, the sales prospects of the British aerospace industry must inevitably decline, that its capital resources would become correspondingly more difficult to obtain and that the know-how, which is our greatest advantage, would become a rapidly wasting asset?

The Prime Minister

I think it is common knowledge that in some aspects of aerospace it is quite beyond the capacity of one country to provide the very large resources required, as we have seen with Concorde, which requires the resources of two countries. Most specialists in this field believe that for such projects in the future probably the resources of a country the size of the United States, the Soviet Union or an enlarged European Community will be required.

Mr. Ford

If we do not enter the Economic Community, taking into account direct and indirect suppliers to the aerospace industry, may not the jobs of nearly half-a-million men be at risk?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure that the number is quite so large as half a million, but a very large number indeed are engaged in the aerospace industry. There would be much greater opportunities, the specialists believe, if we worked together with European countries. I also found a general belief that what is needed now is not only collaboration but a European company stucture, which is the only effective way of dealing with the latest developments in aerospace.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is it not a fact that the pro-Marketeers admit that there are certain disadvantages about going into the Common Market but claim that the advantages outweigh them, notably to such advanced technological industries as the computer and aircraft industries? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that recently a group of hon. Members went to I.C.L. and put the question to one of its top directors, "What would be the advantages and disadvantages to your firm?" He looked us in the face for a minute and said, "I do not think it would make very much difference to our company."

The Prime Minister

Individuals are entitled to make their own judgment, but the view of the great majority of British industries, particularly of the advanced technological industries, is that, on balance, there would be advantages to us inside the Community.

Q4. Mr. Atkinson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make it the Government's policy not to accept a simple majority of the actual votes cast in the House of Commons, but a majority of all Members voting in favour before pursuing Great Britain's application to join the European Economic Community.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

Mr. Atkinson

In view of that pretty decisive answer, will the Prime Minister confirm or deny the recent statement he made to a Press conference that in his opinion the decision to enter the Common Market was irrevocable? Therefore, does not he think that consideration should be given to the fact that a minority number of Members voting in favour of joining the Six could be taking a decision which, in the Prime Minister's opinion, is irrevocable?

The Prime Minister

If I understand the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question correctly, I see his point of view. He is saying that we should work on the basis not of a simple majority of votes cast in this House but of a majority of all those who are Members of the House. This is not the constitutional practice of the House, and I do not see any grounds for changing it on this occasion.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are debating these matters today.